By: Blonde Two
There are two main responses that I got when I said that I was organising a trip to Norway; the first was, ‘How wonderful,’ and the second, ‘It’s very expensive.’ These wise people were right, Norway is both wonderful and, if you are not a careful traveller, can be very expensive. When I started to plan Mr B2’s surprise birthday trip I had just started up Fi Darby Freelance (my new and now beginning to thrive business), we were short of funds and I wasn’t even sure that I could get us beyond a weekend in Scotland let alone a drive all the way up to Nordkapp at the top of Norway. It took a lot of research and looking around but I did it and we had a fantastic adventure free camping and exploring. Here are my tips on visiting Norway on a budget.
Plan your Norway travel times
I didn’t have a choice of dates as I wanted to fly out on Mr B2’s birthday but as it turns out May is a pretty good time to visit Northern Norway. If you arrive at the beginning of May you will find yourself between the winter and summer busy times. This won’t suit you if you want everything to fully open (for example some camp sites, the cable car in Tromso and the Nordkapphaller Visitor Centre at Nordkapp), but you will find that excellent combination of roads that are clear of snow next to views that are full of it.
This ‘not quite the season yet’ timing does however mean that the flights are a bit cheaper. We fly with SAS who are a Star Alliance partner (great if you collect airpoints for trips to NZ like I do) and offer very reasonable ‘budget’ fares without all the miserliness of some other airlines. An SAS Go traveller for example gets a generous 1 checked bag 23 kilo allowance (necessary if you want to take camping kit) plus a reasonable sized 8 kilo cabin bag and although food is not free on the trip, a generous allowance of tea and coffee is. Blonde tip, take something yummy in your cabin bag to go with your coffee. SAS do a useful low far calendar to help you plan a budget trip to Norway.
Norway Self Catering
There is no doubt about it, eating out in Norway is expensive. Mr B2 and I read menu boards but apart from a slice of ‘reindeer pizza’ at Tromso airport didn’t eat out beyond the occasional coffee and cake or waffles. Self catering is definitely the way to go in Norway if you are on a tight budget. To this end I booked an apartment rather than a hotel room for our 3-night stay in Tromso and we spent the rest of our time in a camper (more about that later).
One of the great things about self-catering is that you have to go and explore the supermarkets, something I hate at home but really enjoy when travelling. Before you start supermarket shopping it is wise to understand a bit about the currency conversions otherwise you can get a nasty shock at the tills. Norwegian Krone weren’t too tricky but a ready-reckoner in your purse can be handy. Even in the supermarket we still had to do a bit of bargain hunting, pizza was readily available but it often pays to look at local specialities so our bargain successes included Norwegian fish cakes (‘Fiskekaker’ caused no end of verbal fun), meatballs (which went a long way with a homemade tomato sauce) and basic pasta (buy quick-cook if you are camping to save money on gas).
Camping in Norway
We rented a budget camper from Norwagon. The van was basic but we, being used to sleeping in the back of a Hilux Surf, loved it and it provided us with the shelter (and duvets to compliment our down sleeping bags) we needed in the Arctic chill and kept going for our miles and miles of Norwegian mountain roads.
Pedro was very helpful and gave us lots of trip suggestions and useful advice such as, ‘You might need to take the water to bed with you to stop it from freezing.’ We were sad to say goodbye to the camper when we left. My plan had been to free camp for 2 nights and then stop in a camp site for facilities every 3rd. In the end we loved the challenge and the beauty of our free camping stops so free camped for the whole 9 nights.
This would be my main budget tip but also a recommendation just for the adventure of finding places to stop (more about that in another blog post).
There are of course other elements to a holiday that cost money. We limited our paid leisure trips to the Tromso cable car (well worth it) and a trip up a fjord on a ferry. Don’t be afraid to explain to a tourist information officer that you are on a limited budget, we joined the daily ferry and had a great time.
We took the camper on 3 between island ferries and were pleasantly surprised at the cost of these (not all that much more than the Dart ferry at Dartmouth) they were also a great way to enjoy the fjord views. A lot of the time, saving money whilst you travel is about making your own fun and we found plenty of that.